How do you choose the settings for your stories?

When you read a book the setting is like another character.  It’s important, you want to picture the characters in their surroundings, even if your version of that picture is different to everyone else.  I’ve written before on how I see describing settings as a balance between giving enough information to convey something of my vision of any given place while still leaving enough room for the reader to form their own picture.  It’s like I provide the outline and the reader colours it in.  For the Inspector Kirby books this was an interesting and evolving process.

With my science fiction settings this was easy in some ways and hard in others.  The worlds and places were totally mine as in they existed only in my head so they could be anything I wanted them to be.  However, I still had to have a good picture of those places, the features, the feel, the weather.  I had to put myself in those worlds to understand how my characters reacted with them.  They may have been fantasy worlds, but they still had to work, if you understand what I mean.  If I think about those books now I can still see the worlds I created.  The fun was letting my imagination loose in creating those environments.

Now for my Inspector Kirby books it was a different challenge.  At first I thought they’d be set in London, south of the river around Newcross to be precise.  My son was in college there when I first had the ideas for Kirby and it just looked right.  Then as those stories developed I realised I didn’t know the area well enough.  Yes I could look at it on google maps etc., but I still didn’t have a feel for the place.  I then moved the setting to Surrey where I live, centering around Guildford.  I know the area well.  I’ve shopped in the towns, walked the hills and countryside, even fished some of its rivers.  Then again as the first story developed it still didn’t have the right feel.  The story has elements of magic and the paranormal.  Also the characters themselves didn’t feel like Surrey characters (if that makes sense).

It’s not as if I had a eureka moment, I think it just gradually dawned on me there was only one place I could set my stories and that is Northumberland.  I grew up in England’s most northerly county.  It’s the part of the world I still think of as home even though I’ve spent far more years in the south of the country.  Perhaps it’s because it formed the backdrop to my early years I have a love for the place.  I day tripped all over it with my parents. In my teens I cycled it and later drove my first car all over it.  I got married there.  And later, when I returned, I dragged my own children to my favourite places.  So yes I know it well.

As for those Inspector Kirby stories it provides the perfect backdrop.  It’s the least populated county in England.  It has wild rolling hills the tops of which are dotted with pre-historic forts.  It has mile upon mile of wide sandy beaches and rugged rocky coast line.  There is all the history you could want from Hadrian’s wall in the south of the county (as featured in the second Kirby book) to the imposing Norman castles dotted all the way up the coast line, including the iconic ones of Alnwick, Bamburgh, Warkworth and Dunstanburgh (which is still there I assure you despite what happens in that first Kirby story).   So when it comes to mystery, magic and the paranormal there’s nowhere better in my opinion.  Oh, and did I mention I love it.

I hope my affection for Northumberland comes across in the books.  As for my characters I think they’re lucky to live there and I believe they think so too.  If you read the books I hope you get some sense of the county.  And if they prompt one or two of you to visit I promise you won’t be disappointed, just take a jumper and a coat, whatever the time of year.

If you want to get sense of Northumberland you can for free in my first Inspector Kirby book.  Just follow this link

As always comments are welcome,

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

3 thoughts on “How do you choose the settings for your stories?”

  1. Setting is, as you say, another character in your book. Although I write fantasy, with my own created worlds (like your SF), I also write some urban fantasy, which required a contemporary setting, so I picked my adopted home of Inverness, with surrounds that, like Northumbria, are endowed with all the magic and mystery for weird happenings without anyone raising an eyebrow.
    I also live currently in the south-east (Sussex, not far from you), but Scotland holds my heart and that makes it really easy to be enthusiastic about the setting when I write my sprite novels.
    Reading-wise, I’m now well into Brexitus and thoroughly enjoying Kirby’s outlook on life again – it feels in many ways like Midsommer Murders in the north, with a magical slant.

    1. Thanks for this and glad you’re enjoying the latest Kirby. As I said I’ve been away from Northhumberland for a long time, but still love it when I do get a chance to go back (not often enough). I drove through Midsommer once, didn’t stop, just put my foot down.

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